Rural stress helpline sees calls quadruple

A rural stress helpline has seen calls quadruple over a six-month period this year because of farming financial woes and the fodder shortage.

Console’s farm and rural stress helpline received 5,267 calls between March and September, compared to 1,316 over the previous six months. The 24-hour helpline (freephone 1800 742 6450) is operated by Console on behalf of the HSE.

“Often callers to the helpline are in great emotional pain and many are on the brink of ending their own lives,” said Console founder and chief executive Paul Kelly.

He said the fodder crisis in March and April saw calls to the helpline rise dramatically from 347 in February to 876 in April.

“Farmers struggled and, in many cases, failed to get the support of the banks. The stress of that, combined with a sense among farmers that they are isolated from the community, left many feeling unable to cope.” More than 6,500 members of the farming community have called the crisis helpline over the past 12 months.

Head of the Irish Farmers Association’s farm family and social affairs section, Margaret Healy, said she was unsurprised by the increased number of calls.

She had travelled through the country to address IFA and other community meetings as part of the association’s Let’s Talk: Dealing with Farm Stress campaign.

“I have seen the stress many farm families are under. The recession continues to take its toll and the farm and rural stress helpline is an essential support service for rural communities,” she said.

Mr Kelly said a lack of public transport and little access to public services had increased isolation.

“We often find that callers living in remote areas have heightened anxiety about their own personal safety.”

Mr Kelly said farmers tended to be private people and suffered in silence, so it took great courage for such people to pick up the phone and call their helpline. “We provide professionally trained, highly qualified, and accredited counsellors. We want to get the message out there to farmers that this is not just a listening service, that the farm and rural stress helpline can really help.”

* www.console.ie.

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